St. Thomas Men’s hockey
Brandon Woller '17 / University of St. Thomas

In the News: Phil Esten on Men’s Hockey Moving to the NCHC

University of St. Thomas Vice President and Director of Athletics Phil Esten recently spoke with the Pioneer Press about the men’s hockey team’s upcoming transition from the CCHA to the top-tier NCHC beginning in the 2026-27 season.

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From the story:

St. Thomas athletics director Phil Esten won’t argue with those who consider the National Collegiate Hockey Conference to be the best conference in men’s college hockey. He didn’t have to be asked twice when conference commissioner Heather Weems offered the Tommies the chance to become a member.

The Tommies will become the 10th member of the conference beginning with the 2026-27 season. Before then, they will remain in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association, their home since making the jump to Division I in 2021. ...

“The NCHC had talked about the landscape of college hockey,” Esten said. “They’re adding Arizona State next season, so they talked about the composition of their membership. They wanted to go from nine (member schools) to 10, and they asked commissioner Weems for an assessment to identify a potential 10th member. … We quickly assessed that there was mutual interest.” ...

“Going from Division III to Division I, and now accepting this invitation to join the NCHC, doesn’t happen if you don’t have great leadership,” Tommies coach Rico Blasi said. “That comes from Dr. Esten, to president (Rob) Vischer to our board. We’re very appreciative of their efforts, and all our players, and we’re excited to be a part of that.”